Not on my land

The Army is failing to do enough to engage with mountain bikers who ride on the sandy singletrack around Aldershot, in Surrey and Hampshire, and is still pursuing a campaign to restrict access for those on two wheels.

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That’s the view of the Trails Action Group (TAG), a volunteer body set up to represent local riders in the area, following a survey of more than 600 mountain bikers.

Back in 2013 the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which manages army land in the UK, announced it would enforce a long-overlooked by-law restricting bicycles to metalled roads on Ministry of Defence land, rendering huge tracts of forest and heath around Farnborough and Aldershot no-go zones for the thousands of mountain bikers that use them. Four years later, TAG is still fighting a battle to engage with the DIO and help it recognise that mountain bikers are best consulted rather than ignored.

The latest action by TAG has been to illustrate to the DIO just how important army land is to mountain bikers, with a survey demonstrating the need for better local liaison between land owners and riders.

Reluctance to engage

Most mountain bikers ride local trails, are aware of the restrictions on army land use, and aren’t members of national cycling bodies, the survey found. In contrast, the DIO is resistant to engaging or communicating with local riding groups and doesn’t seem to follow the MoD’s guidance on encouraging the safe use of its estates, TAG says.

In reply, the DIO said it did recognise the extent to which the local community use parts of the training estate. “Having received the report, over the coming month DIO will be further considering how we can continue to fulfil our training requirements, but in turn support recreational opportunities where it is safe and not detrimental to our primary objectives,” said James Nevitt from the DIO.

Where it’s worked

Does the DIO need inspiration? The successful Trails for Wales campaign has demonstrated where a national framework and set of guidance, with collaboration from public sector and other organisations with an interest in the environment, sport and health, allows people to come together and improve access.

Local mtb representatives must be given a place at this table, so that the interests of local communities are heard. The result would be locally nuanced guidance with joint responsibility shared with community groups. One thing that is clear from this report is that there is an informed, passionate and flexible network of people willing to work – at no cost – to take this forward. Their influence should not be underestimated.

What the TAG survey says

Use of MoD land is core many a riders’ daily activities and they value being able to ride on it.

Communities are aware of how and when they should use the land and most riders act responsibly. The MoD has clear guidance supporting the safe use of its estates, but this is not reflected by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO).

The DIO appears to resistant to engage with local mountain biking groups and uses a negative and unwelcoming tone.

The DIO expresses a preference for engaging with a national body (as yet unknown), as opposed to individual local groups.